“She thinks she’s so cool,” said Todd with a scowl.
He pointed at a woman across the street. She walked down the sidewalk carefully, holding a dog’s leash in one hand. “She’s wearing really expensive sunglasses, even though it’s pretty cloudy. And she’s got a cane. I saw a rad cane like that at a garage sale once and I asked my mom to get it for me, and she said no. She said I’d just knock over her planters again.” It was true. Todd had to replace one after he broke it doing a sweet skateboard trick. Considering how ridiculously low his allowance was, he’d barely been able to afford three Symphony candy bars that week. He usually got four and put the change in his ‘emergency’ fund, which was eventually spent on Magic the Gathering cards.
Todd was seventeen years old.
“I don’t know,” his friend Edgar said carefully. “I don’t think she’s trying to be cool. I think she’s blind.”
“What?” Todd squinted at the woman as she followed the dog down a side street. “How can you tell?”
“Well, I don’t know. Just look at her.”
“You have blind-ar, huh?” Todd poked Edgar in the stomach and laughed. “Makes sense that you guys can recognize each other.”
“That’s insensitive,” Edgar said. “I’m not blind. I’m myopic. There’s a difference.”
“I can’t see any difference,” said Todd, and laughed hysterically again.
Edgar crossed his arms and stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at the sidewalk, lips pursed.
Todd stopped too. There was no point in going to Pizza Land without Edgar, because he was the one who had all the money. “Did you find a quarter?” Todd finally asked.
“No. I’m upset.”
"Just a bottle cap, huh? I’d be mad too. Once, I thought I found a dollar, and it just turned out to be -"
“No, Todd. I’m upset because you think it’s funny to be myopic. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t have empathy.” Edgar took off his thick glasses and thrust them at Todd. His eyes looked squinty and small, and Todd felt uncomfortable, as if he’d seen Edgar without pants. “It’s terrible not being able to see. I’d give anything to have twenty-twenty vision. But that doesn’t mean anything to you, does it?”
Todd shrugged. It was funny, that was all. Blind people fell down a lot and couldn’t find the bathroom on their own; what wasn’t hilarious about that? “If I say yes,” he said carefully, “would you still buy us a pizza? I’m really hungry.”
“Well, I’m not,” Edgar said. He shoved his glasses back on and walked down the sidewalk quickly, leaving Todd to scan the sidewalk just in case Edgar really had seen a quarter. Stranger things had happened.
“Wait up!” he called as Edgar stomped away. “Listen, you can choose the toppings this time!”
But Edgar was inconsolable. Todd turned his shirt backwards as he ran down the sidewalk. When he caught up with Edgar, he gasped and said, “Look, I dressed myself like a blind person! Now you can laugh at me and we’ll be even.”
“That’s not how it works,” Edgar insisted, though he couldn’t suppress a snicker.
“Then explain it to me. I want to make this right. I feel really bad.” Todd’s stomach rumbled again.
“I don’t think there’s a way.”
“What if I donated money to charity?”
“You don’t have any.”
“Oh.” Todd thought for a while. “What if I wished really, really hard? What if I wished that no one would ever be blind?”
Edgar shook his head. “It’s a nice sentiment, but the thing about America is that everyone can live here as equals. You can’t discriminate like that. What if I said I wished no one was named Todd?”
Todd looked down at his shoes, ashamed. When he thought about it that way, it really was hateful. Even just imagining Edgar saying the words made Todd want to knock him over and run.
“Maybe you could just cover your eyes for a while,” Edgar said. “Then you’d understand what real blind people go through every day. Then maybe you’d feel sorry for them.”
“I could yell an apology,” Todd offered. “Maybe the blind woman would hear it. She can probably hear really well.”
“Forget it,” muttered Edgar.
“No, I like your idea.” Todd covered his eyes. “Here I am! I’m blind. It’s so good to be here, in this country.”
“Blind people aren’t immigrants.” Edgar grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him. “Todd, you have to take this seriously.” He handed Todd his glasses. “Try putting these on.”
Todd slipped them on dubiously. They were greasy and had bits of cheese puffs on the lenses. He looked around at the blurred landscape. “Is this what it’s like to be blind?”
“Can you see anything?”
“Good. Come on, step over here. See how well you like it.”
Todd moved his foot experimentally. The world bowed and buckled around him. It looked like he was walking along the surface of an enormous soap bubble. “I don’t think so,” he said. He moved his head around, taking in the entire sidewalk. “This is what it feels like to be drunk, I bet. Do you think blind people feel drunk all the time?”
“Give me back my glasses,” Edgar said.
Todd handed them back.
As they walked down the street, Todd felt proud of himself. Empathy. That was a strong word, a word that he’d heard in dull English class lectures and on television shows starring strong-chinned doctors. And, for a fleeting moment, he’d experienced it.
Being blind wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but it was pretty bad. “I guess blind people aren’t as terrible as I figured,” he said at last. “I guess I shouldn’t have made fun of them.”
“Sure,” Edgar said quietly.
Now he had apologized, and Edgar would buy him the pizza he deserved. Todd felt proud, like he was a real adult. I’m going to write this on the calendar, he told himself, but by the time he got home, stuffed with mushroom-olive pizza and Dr. Pepper, he’d forgotten it. But he didn’t forget to draw sunglasses on all the Magic the Gathering cards that Edgar had left over at his house. It was a good idea. That way, he’d always know whose cards belonged to whom.